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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Entries in Best Actor (96)

Friday
Aug082014

Review: Get On Up

Michael has joined Nathaniel on weekend review duties so you get two. Here he is on Get On Up...

The opening scenes of Get On Up are so loose and dynamic they give the viewer reason to hope that Tate Taylor’s take on James Brown’s life story sidestepped the pitfalls that trap so many musical biopics. The film shuffles back and forth through Brown’s life with such breathless energy it’s as if the screenplay itself is possessed by the spirit of Soul Brother No. 1. It’s exhilarating, but the thrill dissipates quickly when it becomes clear that underneath the exploded chronology and the surface razzmatazz, Taylor’s film is operating from the same old biopic playbook. It turns out Get On Up is as square as the squarest prestige Oscar grab, right down to the dumb trope of pinning all of the star’s self-destructive behavior to a childhood trauma.

With the hyper-kinetic structure, not to mention the wall-to-wall James Brown music (which remains irresistible) it’s easy to miss the fact that the Get On Up never musters much insight into its subject. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business was the next logical choice to get the Walk the Line treatment, so here we all are. The script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth opts for an all-of-the-above approach that skips from topic to topic without ever really coming to a point. Here’s James Brown performing in Vietnam. Here’s an unknown Brown stealing an open mic night from Little Richard. Here’s a past-his-prime Brown stoned out of his gourd, waving a shotgun around while wearing a hideous green sweat suit. No one will miss the boring old three-act arc, but the portrait of the man never emerges from the mosaic.

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Friday
Jul182014

Oscar Updates: Acting Pairs and Young Bucks

The chart updates continue. I've been thinking a lot about Foxcatcher and Love is Strange and whether or not Sony Pictures Classics will have the guts to campaign all four of those male leads as leads. Essentially they'd be asking for 80% of the category which would be extremely ballsy (no pun intended with four sets of them) but also honest. For these July updates I'm fantasizing that they will.

Eddie Redmayne, David Oyelowo, and Channing Tatum are just three of the fresh crop of leading men who might be competing for Oscar gold for real life roles

But the funny thing is: Best Actor is enormously crowded without any of that acclaimed quartet. Playing a real life character won't even get you very far because most lead actors are doing just that, thereby dulling its time-tested competitive advantage. I count at least 10 possibly major contenders this year in biographical roles: Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Oyelowo, Carell, Tatum, Spall, Boseman, O'Connell, Hill and Maguire. And that's not including Christoph Waltz who I'm now guessing will try his luck doing the co-lead as supporting thing again for Big Eyes which has worked well for him twice before; he's like the Poster Boy for Category Fraud.

The most exciting thing about the Best Actor Chart? Most of them have never been nominated so we're likely to have a real fresh quintet. With all these true stories in 2014 Supporting Actor may well be filled to bursting with real life, too, albeit without as many newbies in the mix. Good luck to the originals I say who have to create three-dimensional characters from whole cloth and the never nominated who are eager to be let in throughthe golden door.

Breaking Jack O'Connell?
On Emmy nomination morning this new trailer emerged for Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, a World War II drama which is likely to be a major breakthrough event for its lead actor Jack O'Connell, especially given that he's already shown true star charisma according to everyone who has seen his raw prison drama Starred Up (also due this year). But there are three potential obstacles to a presumed Best Actor run.

1. The man he's playing, Louis Zamperini, just died and those can be tricky waters to navigate in terms of film releases and campaigning without seeming exploitative about it (see Mandela's tip toe last year)

2. AMPAS is not as predictable these days with what we might well call 'classic Oscar bait'. They've been getting friskier with their choices for some time now (think of that 2006 win and then the entire 2007 lineup and so on through the now: Amour? Beasts of the Southern Wild? etcetera) . Old school 'triumph of the human spirit' epics and glossy WWII pics are no longer sure things. 

3. Jack O'Connell turns 24 next month. That's extremely young for Best Actor. For some context should O'Connell be nominated for this role with lots of hooks (crying, real life character, accent, weight loss, heroism) he will be the 2nd youngest nominee of the modern era, just a shade older than John Travolta was for his zeitgest 1977 blockbuster Saturday Night Fever. (Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper were even younger for their noms but that was back in the 30s and early 40s). Only one actor in his 20s has ever won the top prize and that was Adrien Brody for The Pianist, three weeks shy of his 30th birthday.

updated Oscar charts
BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESSSUPPORTING ACTOR, SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sunday
Jul132014

Tweet of the Capsule of the Dawn of The Planet of the Apes

Of the. of the. of the. Help, stuck in a prepositional loop! I regret to inform that there is no full review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) -- you may have noticed unusually sparse off my game posting -- but I press on with this exhaustively multi-tasking post. It's a list. It's a tweet roundup. It's a review.

I can't go on. I'll go on."
-Samuel Beckett 

Were I to write a traditional review of the surprisingly strong sequel to the surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) it would essentially be some sort of fussy expansion and tangent filled detours of these 10 points:

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Thursday
Jul102014

Halfway Pt. 5 Best Performances

Are you getting restless about all these halfway posts? We're almost done. The Power of List compels me. There's one more halfway post to go that's basically 'The Oscar Charts are Updated!' as the coding problem I mentioned is fixed and the updates are happening behind the scenes as you read this. We must get all this halfway business behind us by Saturday morning so that we can ape out all weekend with Andy Serkis & Co and start this second half of the year off right.

Herewith...

THE GREATEST PERFORMANCES OF 2014's FIRST HALF


BEST LEADING ACTRESS: Keira Knightley does her most relaxed and fluid work ever in Begin Again as a musician at a crossroads, never letting any one aspect of the character's situation pigeonhole her emotional responses; Agata Kulesza is an abrasive and evasive presence in her first scenes in Ida as a cynical woman who is too guarded to let her affection for the niece she's just met show but the performance keeps revealing more in each scene, like a window opening up; Luminita Gheorghiu sure can hold the camera and doesn't care what you think of her complicated often unpleasant character in Child's Pose; Marion Cotillard often silent and soulful performance in The Immigrant as a Polish woman who is lured into servitude (sexual and otherwise) is a beauty; and Scarlett Johansson proves herself quite the auteur vessel in her enigmatic, curious, unpredictable, sexual and unsettlingly "off" star turn in Under the Skin.

(This was so difficult to narrow down from ten so my apologies to: Emily Blunt who gives one of the great bad-ass performances even if there's not a lot to her Edge of Tomorrow role beyond that; Angelina Jolie who gifts her wicked witch Maleficent with subtle and unfamiliar affections as well as her usual screen presence for days; Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is so beautiful when righteously aggrieved as Belle; Jenny Slate plays abrasive stand-up well and is even better at believable impulsive decision making on the fly in Obvious Child; and Agata Trzebuchowska as the silent and watchful Ida - and yes both actresses from Ida are named Agata which is funny considering the polar oppositeness.)

BEST LEADING ACTOR: Russell Crowe reminds us he's a movie star with his commanding title performance in Noah, a strange collision of righteous pacifism and violent obsessivenessRalph Fiennes is brilliant as the perfect concierge in Grand Budapest Hotel not quite playing against type but subverting his usual sophisticated cad with new comic energy and a remarkably innocent carnality; It's Jake Gyllenhaal versus Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy and it's easy to tell the characters apart (and argue about preferences) which is a real coup for this perpetually underrated if well employed actor; And finally James McAvoy seriously owns X-Men: Days of Future Past in his second go-round as Professor Xavier, never phoning it in (always a danger with reprisals... his co-stars are much flatter than before) and absolutely committing to the genre, the emotional logic of the highly convoluted plotline and Xavier's combustible feelings for his co-stars and his desire not to feel at all.

 (...and I'm going to stop there at four since I cheated on the next category with six though please note that I also appreciated the work of Aaron Paul who is believably limited in the parental skills department as a grieving widower in Hellion, Pierre Deladonchamps who serves Stranger by the Lake's vision with unobtrusive being on camera as opposite to "Acting!", Chris Evans minimalist but effective leading man skills twice over in Captain America: The Winter Snowpiercer and Colin Firth's Firthishness as filtered through PTSD and bookishness in The Railway Man.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I cheated with six women (Shut up! I don't do such things once we get official. You know that by now.) but at the moment I'm going with Jillian Bell who is so much the comic MVP of 22 Jump Street that it positively hurts... like a punch to the face; Rose Byrne who is sharp, sexy, funny and alive to all the ways she refuses to play a stock wife character in Neighbors; Laura Dern, The Face, who gives The Fault in Our Stars its most genuine tears; Gaby Hoffman who is a complicating but also soothing and sobering presence (neat trick) in the funny Obvious Child; Scarlett Johansson in Captain America 2 who is getting better and better all the time (and she was no slouch at the start) and proves it by upping her Black Widow game every damn time infusing character, layers and specificity into the mandatory surface sexiness and showmanship; and I'm holding a spot open for Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac because.... well... let's talk about that one next week since both Volumes just came out on DVD.

(I'd tip my hat to several other ladies too -- how much time do you have? -- but none were quite on this level so let's not list them all. But please know that this does not mean that I am any less obsessed with Tilda (who was possibly genius but also possibly bad... I'm still deciding... in Snowpiercer) or Nicole (whose role was a dud even if her performance wasn't in The Railway Man, sorry about it.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: May I abstain? No. Fine... I guess I'd go with Patrick D'Assumçao for fish-out-of-water directness and unfussy depression in Stranger by the Lake; Song Kang-Ho for embracing the selfish agenda of his character while giving generously to the spark of Snowpiercer; Adam Levine for surprisingly natural ease with acting in Begin Again - no false notes; and Jeff Goldblum and Tony Revolori from Grand Budapest Hotel though I should see the film again before justifying those names with any explicit commentary on their performances; And I'd make those five choices while glancing over at Scoot McNairy (The Rover), Jeremy Renner (The Immigrant), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys), Jake Lacy (Obvious Child), and everyone else in Snowpiercer and wishing all dozen or so men either had more complicated characters to play, more screen time to prove themselves, or were just a bit more transcendent of the limitations of their roles. I like all of these performances but it's been an uneventful year in this particular category. 

LIMITED OR CAMEO ACTRESS: Emma Levie is somehow malevolent and frightening without doing much at all in Snowpiercer; Alison Pill is an atypical joy in one of Snowpiercer's oddest scenes; Susan Prior does a lot with a very little in her extended scene in The Rover as a dog loving doctor - the movie doesn't care about her but she sure cares about the movie; Charlotte Rampling wows and completely elevates Young & Beautiful in one of its last scenes; and Tilda Swinton is sublime and memorable as the horny ancient heiress in Grand Budapest Hotel who sets the plot in motion.

LIMITED OR CAMEO ACTOR: Matthew Goode is believably progressive and stalwart in a very short bit in Belle; Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton are great fun in their small roles in Grand Budapest Hotel; Luke Pasqualino is magnetic in a nearly silent role in Snowpiercer; and Craig Roberts is hilariously deadpan as "Ass Juice" in the raunchy comedy Neighbors

And I'll end with a tweet about Luke Pasqualino because it's uncool that more people aren't talking about him...

 

 

Oh wait one more...
BEST ENSEMBLE: Grand Budapest Hotel; Neighbors; Obvious Child; Snowpiercer; Young and Beautiful

YOUR TURN. Which performances and characters were you just wild for in these past six months?

 

Friday
Jun062014

1964: Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker

Tim here. Ordinarily, I take this space to talk about animation, but with it being 1964 Month at the Film Experience, I wanted to go someplace else – not least because the state of animation in 1964 was not terribly exciting, unless you’re one of those people for whom a semicentennial tribute to Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear sounds like the absolute best conversation we could be having.

Instead, I’d like to use this bully pulpit to call attention to one of my perpetual favorite picks for Hugely Underrated American Film Masterpiece You All Need to Have Seen, Like, Yesterday: The Pawnbroker, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Rod Steiger, who received an Oscar nomination. It premiered 50 years ago this very month, in competition at the 14th Berlin International Film Festival (they festival’ed differently in those days), not premiering until the following year in the States due to its nudity and generally sour tone. A half of a century has, beyond question, blunted the impact of the movie’s most boundary-pushing elements (not least being the fact that naked women have become so blandly normalized in mainstream film, a development this very movie did a tremendous amount to encourage), and even its then-unprecedented engagement with the Holocaust, including the first scene in an American film set in a concentration camp, feels a little quaint today.

But the grime of humanity isn’t so easily wiped away, and Steiger’s devastatingly committed performance – it’s the best thing he ever did, I’d say, though I’m admittedly dubious about Steiger as often as not – is still a raging powerhouse of human torment. Lord knows The Pawnbroker isn’t any fun, but it’s moving and visceral like few films then or now would dare to be.

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